SALT LAKE CITY — A severe shortage of veterinarians in Utah — especially rural areas — helped motivate the Utah Board of Regents on Thursday to give a unanimous thumbs up to creating a regional, educational partnership between Utah State University and Washington State University.
Supporters say the program will increase the opportunities for Utah students interested in pursuing a career in the profession — which has been named as one of the 50 best careers of 2011 by U.S. News and World Report.
The next step is for Utah lawmakers to kick in $1.7 million in annual funding for the program's first two years. It is anticipated that once it is firmly entrenched, the partnership will require $3 million in annual funding.
In the works for three years, the program began to gain greater steam after being vetted at a meeting this summer of the Legislature's natural resources committee, where Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan was encouraged to draft a bill on the joint venture.
Under the program as envisioned, students will spend the first two years in their studies at Logan's USU and finish their last two years, including clinical studies, at Washington State University. The program will accept 30 new students each year — 20 from Utah and 10 nonresidents.
The program is modeled after similar regional partnerships in the country that are designed to meet host state needs and also share educational costs in a discipline that is experiencing growing demand.
With many states facing budget woes due to a flailing economy, partnership supporters say such collaboration allows the creation of a program despite funding constraints. Students could begin studies as early as fall 2012.
"We have gained tremendous support from commodity groups, constituency groups, legislators and residents because they all see the need for increasing the number of practicing vets in the state of Utah," said Ken White, the USU's department head in animal, dairy and veterinary sciences.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture identified six regions in Utah that have a shortage of veterinarians, including Rich, San Juan and Kane counties.
White said with a vet program in Utah, candidates can be screened so that some of the graduates can begin practicing in those areas, helping to reduce the shortage.
"It's a great day for agriculture, it's a great day for students in agriculture and it's a wonderful opportunity for Utah State University to expand its mission," White said.